Monday, March 21, 2011

Taking my talents to South Beach



No, my talents aren't on par with LeBron's, but yes, they went to South Beach this morning.  The Miami International Triathlon was the first of WTC's new 5150 series of non-drafting, olympic distance racing.  This wasn't why I signed up, I actually found that out after I decided to register.  What did this mean?  Well, the field size actually shrunk from what they had last year, and from what I expected.  The $30 price increase that comes with the M-dot tag probably had something to do with that.  However, it seemed to only trim the local, recreational participation numbers... the competition in the top half was just as fierce as previous years results indicate.  Because of the massive amount of prize money at the US championships later in the year, the pro field was stacked (they're trying to earn enough points to qualify for it).  Apart from the World Championships, this race had the strongest pro field of any race I've competed in.  A 1:50 wouldn't get you top 10.

I really enjoyed this race.  The weather was perfect, ~75 by the time I hit the run, which is just under the point where a winter's worth of training in Wisconsin's winter would be rendered useless.  They started us (elite amateur wave) about 5 min after the pro women's wave, and 7 after the pro men.  The swim was saltwater and wetsuit legal, so I suppose I was probably pretty buoyant.  I know I'm faster in a wetsuit, because I've clocked myself in a pool with one, but one thing you kind of lose is your feel for the water.  You just have to trust that you're getting a catch.  My time of 19:27 on the swim indicated to me that yes, I was catching water even if I hadn't been sure during the swim.  I did feel strong though, I didn't lose steam in the final 200-300 meters as I have in the past.  Just kept on chugging, and swam a decently straight line.  Coming out of the water, my parents told me that I was in 9th in my wave.  This was motivating, I'm usually not that high out of the water at this caliber of race.

T1 included a 200m run into transition, so my time of 2:00 was actually one of the best in the race.  Getting on the bike I was excited to test my indoor training and hopefully make up some ground.  The bike course was two loops, first through the downtown area and then across a large bridge to Miami Beach (and South Beach).  Everyone told me to expect a flat course, and for the most part it was, but this bridge (actually an interstate, first time biking on one of those!) had two quite large hills in each direction.  Each lap was an out and back on this road, and with two laps it meant we had eight (8) grinders that were big enough to get in to the small ring and out of the aerobars towards the top.  The pro's were saying that the new course this year was more challenging than last year's.  Towards the end of the first lap, I passed the leading female elite amateur (and thought about how badly she must've killed me on the swim as I went by)  As I went through the second lap, I knew I was moving up the field.  It was hard to tell exactly where I was because we were going through the athletes on their first lap.  I figured I was in 5th or 6th as I got off the bike. (Turns out I was in 6th)  My bike split was a 1:00:57, which is excellent for this time of year.  In the past, I have ridden at around 21-22mph off the trainer, but this was almost 25.  I intend to drop this consistently as the year moves forward.

Getting off the bike my legs weren't exactly excited to run, but they weren't toast either.  My lack of bricks due to the time of year was obvious, as my legs really kicked in around the 5k point.  The run course was flat and fast, with a few turnarounds on each of the two laps.  I enjoyed it, you got to see everyone and that keeps you motivated.  I developed a side cramp in the final half mile or so that lasted ~2minutes, but my pace dropped from sub 6 to around an 8 minute mile.  I managed to lose it for the final kick and saw my clock time listed at 2:00:07, with a 36:58 run.  So close to breaking two hours, but a great PR for a true olympic distance race.  My previous best time is in the 2:03's.  Something my friend Jack Dudley says he does after a PR race is think about what you would have time to do while you wait for your former, slow self to finish the race.  Today I probably could've done an easy sudoku, or perhaps eaten a small sandwich.  Not quite the same as the movie I could've watched between my first and second half Ironmans, but I'll take it!

This is the sudoku I'm talking about, btw


A quick glance at the unofficial results told me that I had finished 6th overall in the amateur field.  Sweet!  My previous best finish at a race this caliber was 10th at Lifetime Fitness last year.  Also, and more importantly, I was just ~2.5 minutes away from 3rd place, which is the final place that meets elite qualification.  No official progress was made towards that goal today, since the winning pro was a 1:44 and I don't think any of the amateurs were within 8% of that, but definite progress was made.  It's so close I can smell it now.  Just makes me hungrier.

Well, after hanging out of awhile, deciding that I wasn't going to throw up or pass out, and getting my bike checked out of transition, it was time for awards.  I knew I wasn't going up on stage because they just gave awards through 5th, but the top 10 qualify for the hy-vee championships later in the year.  I already know that I'm not going to go this year since it doesn't fit in my schedule.  However, my mom wanted the visor that they gave you in the registration packet, so I went over to the tent to grab it.  Upon telling the guy my name, he looks at his sheet and says, "hmmm, don't see your name here"  Ok.... how about checking the 25-29 age group then?  "Nope, not listed in the top 10 here either"  Weird.  After walking away a bit confused, I decided to go check the referee's list of penalties.  Maybe I got a drafting penalty?  Which wouldn't make much sense as I don't stay in the 3 bike length draft zone more than 5 seconds to pass usually.  When I checked the list I actually saw my number... My first penalty!  Wow, big day for me.  But it wasn't a drafting penalty.... instead it was an illegal pass.

When I saw it I knew exactly when I did it.  There must've been a motorcycle right behind me.  Not like I am purposely passing people on the right... I'm not that dumb.  Here is what happened.  Towards the end of my second lap, I was passing a bunch of guys on their first lap.  This put me in the middle of the road with the people I'm passing on my right.  As I'm going down the street at ~25mph, I come up on this person, by himself, riding in the middle of the road. (I really hope the guy at least gave him a blocking penalty too or something)  So I'm about to go around him to the left but then someone started passing me on my left.  Well, since this guy is in the middle of the road we can't fit two bikes to his left.... since he's going about 18mph I whip around his right, rather than slamming on my brakes.  Did I technically break the rules? Yes.  Was it really my fault?  Probably not that much.  Would I do it again?  All it did today was add 2 min to my time (Officially 2:02:07) and drop me out of the top 10, which doesn't matter to me since I'm not doing Hy-Vee anyway.  However, the scary part is if I had been in the top 3, it would've dropped me out of it... so I think next time this odd situation comes up, I'll probably just have to suck up the couple seconds of lost time.

This is an example of why it's important to pass correctly.


However, sometimes you have to think on your feet and bend the rules a bit to be safe


This weekend was great, both the race and getting to be in the perfect warm weather of Miami in the spring.  I'm really excited for the season after this great opener.  My next race is April 10th; a half ironman in Texas.  Hopefully I'm not stuck inside till then!

PS. I'm going to bring a book with me to my next Ironman

Friday, March 18, 2011

Acknowledgements

It's not a UW Tri team road trip without some sort of unexpected car trouble.  Thankfully this year, for once, my car wasn't the problem.  After a 15hr trip that should've taken 11, I'm down in TN for the week.  I'm here with the UW Tri team on their spring break trip.  It's definitely nice to get outside on the bike before my first outdoor race of the year.  Up until this morning, every ride I've done since October has been on a trainer.  This is the 7th year in a row I've travelled with the team for break (4 as a student, 3 as an alum) and it has always been a great week of training for me.  I almost feel it's an essential week in my season,....at this point I'd actually be nervous for the season not being here... basically I'm living like a fully sponsored pro triathlete.  I can get 9-10 hours of sleep a night, train 3x/day (each workout ~1-3hrs), eat unlimited amounts of good (tasty and nutritious) food, nap if I need to, and still have time to hang out on the lake, recover, talk about bike aerodynamics, etc.  It's the perfect kick start to the outdoor season.

You're probably asking, what does this have anything to do with the title of this post?  This is an example of an opportunity I have because of my present and prior involvement in the UW Tri team.  The team has done a lot for me over the years.  It basically got me going with the sport, and due to the team structure and the individual members of the team in my early years I went from a recreational, averagely talented triathlete to where I am now.  Not that they forced me into being more competitive, but that is the beauty of it.  There was never a chance of burnout.  The encouragement, support and opportunity was there and I took full advantage.  The Tri team is a huge reason I am where I am today.  I know for a fact I would not have gotten to this point on my own, or even as a part of a lot of other groups.  There are very few like it.  No matter where I go from here, I'll always have a UW Tri sticker on my racing helmet.

If you look at any pro athlete, you'll find a large support system around them.  It's not possible to reach your athletic potential completely on your own.  A great intrinsic motivation is essential, and will get you far on it's own, but it can't get you all the way.  Age group triathletes can have a similar situation as the pro triathlete, it just takes some extra work, luck, and cash in some cases.  If you want to reach your true potential, you have to have or find the right people, and then allow them to help you. (an important step that many don't take due to pride, etc)  I call these people an athlete's "team".  I am very thankful to have the team around me that I do.  I certainly couldn't do what I'm doing at this level without them.  Before this race season gets underway I wanted to acknowledge those who have, and continue to, help me along my athletic journey.  I have noticed that many athletes only thank their support team after they have won, and fire/get rid of/walk away from them if they lose.  I don't want to do it that way.  These people and groups have helped me along the way, and whether or not I reach my ultimate goals in the sport, I'm thankful for their help and encouragement.

My triathlon support "team":

UW Triathlon Team- See Above

Family-  I have been very lucky to have the kind of support I have from my family.  I could write a whole paper on the importance of family in the success of an individual, but for now it's just good to know that I will never have to worry about being pressured hard to quit or get a certain time/place.  The best support a family can give is encouragement at all times while making sure there is a plan in place so that you are smart about things.  I believe that a good coach should fill those same roles, but in a different realm.  The grounding my family gave me has been the primary factor in influencing the way I approach sport, which has paved the way for any improvements or successes I've had since winning my heat (heat 4 of 50; earlier being the slowest) in the 50m free at All-City as an 11 year old swimmer.

Coaches- I've had lots of coaches over the years, beginning with my Cherokee Country Club swim team and going through high school swim, track, XC and beyond.  There's too many to list everyone here, but I am happy to have had so much variety in coaching over the years.  It has shown me that there is not necessarily one best way to do it, but that it is important to have a good, thought out plan and stick to it.  My current triathlon coach, Blake Becker, has been working with me for the past 3 seasons.  I am very pleased with  how things are going and the improvements in fitness, speed and race tactics since beginning with Blake. He's a pro triathlete and it's a great thing to have a coach who knows what it takes to get to where I want to go.  Our philosophies on training and racing are pretty similar, too, which is a good thing.

Endurance House- Working at a triathlon store definitely has it's perks to a triathlete.  As far as jobs go, I believe that there are few full time, 40+ hr/week jobs out there that would give me as much flexibility to race throughout the season like I am, while at the same time having hours that allow me to train at the level I do.  Not to mention I get to work on bikes and talk triathlon all the time.  Of course like any job it's not all fun and games, there is lots of responsibility and work involved, but I am glad to be working within the sport.  Besides the gear discount, another plus is that I have made lots of friends and important contacts in the sport since starting there.

Friends and Training Partners-  Almost every athlete trains with training partners.  Maybe not all the time, but as stated earlier, I don't believe anyone will reach their potential without someone pushing them day after day in training.  I've had lots over the years, mainly provided by the teams I have been a part of.  I don't want to list any of my training partners here for fear of forgetting someone.  I will give credit to one of my friends who got me started in this crazy sport.  Brent Vidulich was always a step ahead of me in high school swimming and track, but we trained a lot together.  During the summer after sophomore year in high school he convinced me to do this sprint triathlon in Madison with him.  I think I got passed by everyone in the race on the bike, but had a lot of fun and from there the seed was planted.

Bike Mechanic- Every triathlete needs a mechanic that they trust.  Tim Gattenby is our head mechanic at Endurance House and also is the faculty advisor to the UW Triathlon Team.  I've gotten better at bike mechanics over the past few years but whenever I need a fit or something done that is beyond my skill I can always count on Tim to do a good job.

Massage Therapist-  I can't believe that I was a swimmer and runner for 8 years before my first sports massage.  I was so tightened up due to training at my first appointment that the next day I unintentionally set a new 10k PR in a training run.  Since then I've been going fairly regularly, to great results.  I haven't had any injuries, and flexibility (which means range of motion, especially important for the swim and run) has improved.  I encourage all triathletes, or just athletes in general, to have fairly regular massages.  With all the money that goes into maintaining your bike and other gear, remember that your body is your most important piece of equipment as an athlete.  Keep that running smoothly and fluidly and you will see more improvement and success than you could get with any equipment upgrade, short of getting your first bike.  My personal massage therapist is Heather Rizzo at Return to Balance, LLC.  If you're in the Madison area she is one I would recommend looking into.